By: Mark Abrams
It was the first week in November when I received an email from the Mammoth Mountain consultant in charge of the radio site. He was unhappy with certain aspects of our installation, primarily because we did not adhere strictly to the R56 grounding standards with which I do not agree. They wanted us to come back to change the installation to be consistent with the standards because they believe that our failure to adhere to those standards will compromise the integrity of the radio site and the Mammoth Mountain equipment that resides in the site.
We commenced to gather the materials that were needed to implement the requirements of Mammoth Mountain. This required doing some scrounging around the office to locate material for a ground bus to be mounted on the back of the rack that was installed at Lincoln Peak, ground wires, terminal lugs, ground kits, jumper cables, mounting screws, insulators and various other materials to build the ground system that Mammoth insisted that we install on our equipment.
It took us about a week to have all of the materials ready at which time we planned to head back to Mammoth to retrofit the system with the new grounding system. Their requirements are that we register through their contractor portal at least 3 days ahead of our planned arrival so that they can have everything ready on their end that they need to make certain that we get proper access since so many facilities on the mountain are not accessible by ordinary passenger vehicles. The location to which we were going was on top of Lincoln Peak which is completely inaccessible by car, truck or SUV. We needed to get there by some other means which meant that Mammoth Mountain personnel needed to make arrangements for us to get to the site. Once we were on site, their security personnel are responsible to be certain that we get off the mountain and are not stuck there over night since that could end up being a fatal situation. It routinely drops below freezing on the mountain during nighttime so leaving personnel on the mountain without proper gear will be a serious problem.
November 10th arrived and it was time to head north. We left the office in the late morning so that we could get to Mammoth before it became completely dark. When the sun sets in Mammoth during winter, the temperature drops quickly and most of the time, everything begins to freeze. We headed north on the Long Beach Freeway and merged onto the Golden State Freeway heading north. Once we arrived in Sylmar, we passed the Foothill Freeway and shortly thereafter arrived at Highway 14. Turning north on Highway 14 took us through Canyon Country, Acton, Palmdale, Lancaster and eventually to Mojave, the location of an aerospace center where many airplanes come for retrofitting and repairs. It is just a short hop, skip and a jump to Edwards Spaceforce Base which is several miles east of Mojave. Passing through Mojave, we continued north past Jawbone Canyon, Redrock Canyon, Indian Wells, Pearsonville, Coso Junction, Grant, Olancha, Cartago, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and then Bishop.
When passing through the Olancha area, we had originally expected to stop at the Olancha Fire Department to reprogram some radios for them. We had called ahead to see if someone would be available to open the station so that we could reprogram some of the radios. Unfortunately, no one was available, so we continued to roll through Olancha without stopping. However, there was a possibility that we would be stopping there on the way south when heading home.
Before we passed through Big Pine, we decided to stop to have lunch at the Copper Top BBQ. This is one of the most well known BBQ restaurants in the eastern Sierras. We have been in the area many times, but have managed to miss out on the opportunity to eat lunch there because we were there on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the two days of the week that the place is closed. This time, we were there on a Thursday which meant that they should be open for business. Our original plan was to eat lunch in the Mojave area, but we did not find a place where we felt that we wanted to eat. So we thought that we would stop in Indian Wells, but again were disappointed that we were unable to have lunch at that location. We considered stopping for a submarine sandwich, but eventually came up with the idea of having lunch at the Copper Top. When we arrived at the restaurant, they were open as predicted so we parked the car and proceeded to go over to the window to order our lunch. After waiting a few minutes for our respective meals to be prepared, we were counting the seconds until we were able to chow down on what we both felt would be the highlight of our day. We were not disappointed! The flavor of the BBQ, the smokey flavor and the tenderness of the sandwich exceeded all expectations.
After our lunch, we proceeded north towards the town of Bishop when we decided to stop at Schat Communications to perform a job walk with the owner of the building. We looked at the building room where we could locate our equipment and then looked at the cable path for running our cables from one office to another. We then climbed the ladder to the roof to check out where we could mount our antennas and how we could accomplish the task. We took many pictures to document the existing conditions so that we could accurately gauge the need for materials to mount the antennas. When we were finished with the job walk, we proceeded to stop at Mahogany Smoked Meats where we found some goodies to make our trip a bit more enjoyable.
We continued north and finally we arrived in Mammoth before dark and drove to the house where we found the snow packed against the garage door. We attempted to open the garage door and found that the snow had been cleared from the driveway by the snow plow, but they leave about a foot of snow packed against the garage door because they do not want to get too close and damage the building. Unfortunately, the snow had been there for about a week and had frozen to the garage door making it impossible to get the garage door open. Therefore, we had to get to the front door which is around the side of the house and there was plenty of snow between the driveway and the front porch. Grabbing the key to the house, I tromped through the snow until I reached the porch where I was able to make my way to the front door. Chris was right behind me so when I opened the door, he followed me into the mud room and into the interior of the house where we headed to the garage. We went into the garage where we were able to grab the braces for the garage door. I pressed the button on the remote while the two of us pulled up on the garage door, breaking loose the bond between the snow and the garage door. We then had to grab the shovels and dig out the snow bank that was left behind by snow plow. After digging for 10-15 minutes, we were now in the position to drive the SUV into the garage and park the vehicle.
This brought up the opportunity to work up a good appetite for dinner. The snow needed to be removed from the front porch and it would be nice to dig out the pathway from the driveway to the front porch, thus facilitating the ease of entering the house should the garage door become frozen to the snow again which was highly likely. Chris took it upon himself to start digging out the pathway while I turned up the heat in the house and turned up the heat on the water heater. I also plugged in the circulating pump for the hot water which makes the hot water more readily available when one uses any of the sinks or showers that use the hot water. While Chris was working on the front path, I took care of some emails, text messages and then grabbed the other shovel to clear out the snow from the upstairs balcony. After completing that task, I went downstairs to assist Chris with his task of cleaning out the front porch and the walkway. In short, we got the house ready for the next time that we had to head up to the mountain.
It was time to relax and rest up for awhile before dinner. Chris moved into his bedroom while I went to my bedroom to lay down on the bed and watch a bit of TV. Falling asleep for about 45 minutes was in the cards after the afternoon’s work and a little bit of TV. However, now it was time to get up and head over to Giovannis Restaurant and Bar for a nice meal and some libations so that we can be prepared for the work ahead of us tomorrow. We both ordered our most favorite entrée along with a drink to get sufficiently lubricated so that we could get a good nights sleep and be ready for the work ahead in the morning. We finished dinner and headed back to the house so that we could retire for the evening.
The arrival of 6AM came will little fanfare and a distinct buzzing from the alarm clock which almost did not survive the event. It was time to get up and start freezing because the upstairs heater was not working. Considering it was about 20 degrees outside, the lack of heat made it difficult to get undressed to get into the shower. Fortunately, there was an electric heater in the bathroom which I cranked up to keep from shivering to the point of being unable to hold the bar of soap. The hot water of the shower helped immensely to warm me up, so when I finished the shower, I attempted to completely dry off prior to exiting the shower to keep from returning to the shivering. I got dressed for the work by getting into my ski clothes since I felt that they would better serve me in the environment in which we were about to enter. However, I did not put on ski boots as my Uggs seemed to be the better choice for the job. After taking care of emails and checking the weather, Chris and I headed out to get some breakfast at the New York Deli. After eating, we drove up to the maintenance yard where we were told to meet the snowcat that was supposed to take us up the hill to the radio site.
We looked around searching for someone with whom to speak but did not find anyone. I called security regarding getting the key to the radio site building at Lincoln Peak. They told me that I had to come up to the main lodge to get the key, so I left the maintenance yard to head to the main lodge. We arrived at main lodge and maneuvered over to the security office where we were able to park in front of the office. Shortly thereafter they handed us the key to the site at which point we headed back to the maintenance yard. We parked in one of the marked parking spaces after trying to park elsewhere out of the way because there were no open parking spaces at the time which turned out to be a problem for everyone at hand. Eventually one of the spaces opened up, we moved our vehicle into the empty space and started to unload the vehicle with all the tools and supplied that we needed for the job. The snowcat was to meet us across the parking lot, so we had to move all of our supplies over to the location where the snowcat was going to pick us up. After a short time the snowcat arrived and then we were tasked with loading the tools and equipment into the cabin which takes a certain amount of finesse to navigate the tractor plates which do not make a very good walking surface. In fact, they make a very poor walking surface that makes it very difficult to carry tools and equipment across them without twisting one’s ankle.
We finished loading the snowcat and soon got ready to start up the hill. When we first took off, we were traveling some remote areas of the ski resort where there were no skiers. The ride in the snowcat was quite different than any other mode of transportation that I have experienced. Everything was thrown into the cab and not organized well which also meant that the load was not very stable. As the vehicle would twist, turn, yaw and pitch, the load moved around thus making us dodge the debris as it moved around. Eventually, we poked our nose out of the trees near the parking lot for the Rollercoaster lift; then heading towards the bottom of Rollercoaster where we proceeded to sit for the next 30 minutes awaiting an escort up the hill from two snowmobiles because the run was open to skiers and they have certain safety protocols to minimize the possibility of a skier accident. The time delay made us fall behind schedule, but it also had the benefit of letting the sun warm up the mountain where we have to work. Some of the work is outdoors, so the warmer temperature will make the job easier.
We started climbing the hill with the snowmobiles in the lead wavering back and forth making a big scene that would be difficult to miss or ignore. I started filming some of our trip up the mountain using my phone. The ride up the hill in the snowcat was exciting presenting a very different perspective on travel on the snow heading up the hill. We continued to climb the hill as the snowcat stayed over to the right side of the Rollercoaster (Chair 4) ski run (facing up the hill) in an attempt to stay out of the way of the skiers. The snowmobiles continued to run their interference pattern as we worked our way up the hill. We continued under the Gold Rush Chair Lift (#10) and swung around the backside of the chair to make our final approach to the site. We continued up the hill towards the top of Chair #22 where the radio site building is located while taking the the narrow path up to the lift. Finally, we arrived at the building and started to exit the snowcat after the driver secured the cat so that we could walk across the steel treads.
As we got out of the vehicle, we saw a horrible sight. Our hearts began to sink as we saw that our antennas were leaning over at a 50 degree angle from vertical. The problem was that we did not bring any tower climbing equipment which made the problem impossible for us to resolve on this trip. OSHA requirements prevent us from attempting to fix the problem because we did not have our climbing harness, safety ropes or any other items for working on the tower which had the potential to not only take our system down, but also damage other radio systems or injure skiers on the hill. This was a situation that required almost immediate response to fix so that the situation did not go from bad to worse, but there was nothing that we could do for now. (We would have to make another trip up to Lincoln Peak to fix the antennas and it needed to be very soon.) Therefore, we proceeded to unload our tools and equipment from the snowcat and began the chain gang to get the items up to the 2nd floor where the radio room was located. We received some assistance from the driver unloading the materials from the vehicle. The snow had partially blocked the stairs to the 2nd floor, so we had to dig in our shoes into the snow creating “steps” up the snow bank until we were able to reach the stairs, then maneuver our way onto the staircase to reach the 2nd floor. We discussed with the snowcat operator that we would be about 2-3 hours and then we would be done, so we would need a ride down at that time, He informed me that I needed to call security to arrange the trip down the mountain.
Now we were ready to start the retrofit process to bring the site up to the R56 standards demanded by Mammoth Mountain. We had several items that needed to be addressed including the installation of a ground bus on the back of the MRA rack that had ground wires running from each piece of equipment to the ground bus, install a ground wire from the ground bus on the MRA rack to the building ground bus, shorten the antenna cables so that they terminate within 2 feet of the building entrance, remove the extra hardline clamps, install proper ground wires on the lightning arrestors, change the jumpers from the hardline to the radio system, install proper clamps for the jumpers, install ground jumpers at the base of the tower, change the battery charger from 15 amp to 30 amp, tie wrap various cables and sweep the antenna cables after shortening the cables and reattaching the connectors. Each of these tasks had to be completed with expertise and professionalism so that when we were finished, we would have a work product of which we could be proud and be able to point to the fact that our installation was the superior installation in the room.
The weather had warmed up enough for Chris to head outside over to the tower. The two antenna cables we installed previously required ground kits to be installed. This requires us to cut open the cable jacket to expose the copper ground in the cable. Then Chris installed the ground kit by clamping the kit around the cable ground then sealing the connection with multiple layers of waterproofing material to prevent moisture from damaging the cable. While he was outside at the tower, I was cutting the antenna cables to be within the 2 feet of the building entrance. The connectors had to be removed from the cable cutoffs which turned out to be quite a challenge. The connectors were made by Eupen which were not the connectors that we normally use. These connectors do not come off the cable easily, so the removal of the connectors took a significant amount of time for each connector. Once I had the old connectors (two weeks old) removed from the cable, I started the cable preparation of the two antenna cables. Cutting the cables short was challenging due to the new equipment from Mammoth Mtn being in the way. However, I was able to cut the cables and use the cable preparation tool to prep the cable ends for the connector. I then installed the connector on each cable and tightened the connector. Then I was able to install the lightning arrestor and install the ground jumper on the arrestors and ground them to the correct ground bus. Now that the antenna cables were shorter, I had to install longer flexible Superflex jumpers from the hardline cables to our equipment rack. After that was done, I needed to get the Anritsu antenna tester to sweep the antenna cables to verify that they were working properly. This was also a concern because the antenna connections at the top of the tower where the antennas were leaning over may have been stressed or compromised which we could not tell by looking at the connections from our vantage point at the bottom of the tower. Fortunately, the Anritsu indicated that the antenna system was intact.
We were about 45 minutes from being finished when I called Mammoth security to let them know that we wanted the snowcat back to pick us up in about 1 hour. Unfortunately, they indicated due to other circumstances, the snowcat was not available until after shift change at 4PM. This would be a 3 hour wait after we were finished which was not a desirable situation. If I had my skis and ski boots, I could have skied down the mountain to the maintenance yard. However, this would not have resolved the issue of getting Chris down the mountain or any of our tools and left over equipment supplies. I did not have the skis or ski boots, so this was not an option. Walking down the mountain was not an option because we had too much equipment to carry and it was at least 2 miles back down the hill to our vehicle. Our plan was to head back to Los Angeles this afternoon and the delay would make it a very late night. The prospect of waiting for 3 hours just did not set with us very well. I told them that the delay was excessive and that they needed to find another way to get us down the mountain in a more timely manner.
In the meantime, we continued to finish the fine details of the retrofit. We were using the tie wraps to neaten up the cables, securing the screws, ground wires, etc. Eventually, we had finished all the tasks and worked on getting all of the tools and equipment down the stairs to the ground where we waited patiently for security to solve the problem of finding a method for us to get down the mountain. About 15 minutes later I received a call on my cell phone telling me that they could send two snowmobiles to get us down to our vehicle. I was appreciative of their solution, but I wondered if we were going to be able to get all of our stuff on two snowmobiles. Once they arrived, we would do whatever it takes to make it work if it was possible. In the meantime, we visited with numerous skiers who had climbed up the hill from Chairlift 10 to ski the steep runs that start from our location at the top of the hill. The skiers had a significant walk and climb from the top of Chairlift 10, but they considered the challenge of the runs available from our location to be worth the climb. Many of them were curious as to why we were there and what we were doing which sparked numerous conversations and some amazement on the part of the skiers. It helped to pass the time while we waited.
Finally, the snowmobiles arrived at the site. We immediately proceeded to load the back of the snowmobiles with our tools and supplies. We needed some Bungee cords to strap down the load so that it would not fall off the snowmobile. We had to become a bit creative to figure out how to secure everything to the back of the snowmobiles except for our ladder which would not fit on the back. Fortunately, it was only a 2 step ladder so it was not very tall, but it was awkward. The snowmobile operator finally sat it down on the drivers seat going side to side and sat on it. There just didn’t seem to be another way.
I headed down the hill first as soon as my snowmobile was secure and ready to go. Chris was still loading the other snowmobile with the driver so they took off a few minutes after I left. The ride down the hill was challenging as I was trying not to slide forward which would get in the way of the driver and it would take out my knees by hitting the 2-step ladder. The irregular & steep terrain was challenging which required the driver to lean heavily to one side or the other, depending upon whether the ground slope went downhill to the right or to the left. At times to keep from being thrown off the snowmobile, we both had to lean very hard to the uphill side of the slope which was very uncomfortable for me. I had to grip very hard on the handles that were part of the back of the seat behind me which made the riding a snowmobile remind me of riding a horse when I was a young boy, but I was far more flexible at that time in my life compared to today. It was difficult for me to hold onto the snowmobile because I did not have a significant arm spread like the driver who was holding onto the handle bars that were used to steer the vehicle. Riding the snowmobile made me spread my legs in a fashion that was uncomfortable and by the time we got to the parking lot, I felt that I had been riding in a saddle for an hour because my groin muscles were quite sore and I felt like I was walking bowlegged.
We arrived at the parking lot safe and sound without loosing any of the payload on the back of the snowmobile. The driver got off the vehicle and then removed the ladder. I had to figure out if my legs were still working and attempt to kick my right leg over the top of the snowmobile so that I could get off the left side. I found out that my legs were only partially working and trying to dismount the bike through the pain and numbness turned out to be a challenge. With a bit of coaching and prodding, I managed to get my legs working enough to dismount the snowmobile while only wincing in pain only two times. I then had to walk around the area for about 2 minutes to get the circulation back in my legs so that I could attempt to unload the snowmobile which had already been partially unloaded by the driver. I grabbed the balance of the equipment and set them down on the asphalt off of the snow along with the equipment that the driver had already unloaded himself. I thanked him for the help and the ride and about that time, Chris arrived on the other snowmobile. Being about 65% of my size, he had no problem getting off the snowmobile. It was time to develop a jealousy for his younger and physically more agile body but first I had to retrieve the SUV and bring it to the location of our equipment so that we could load it into our vehicle and depart the scene. The 100 yard walk back to the SUV helped get my legs working better, increase the circulation and shake off the soreness & pain. I got out the keys, started the SUV and drove over to Chris where we both proceeded to load everything into the vehicle.
Once loaded and driving away in the SUV, I called Mammoth security to find out where I could meet them to return the key. They were over by the main lodge, so we headed there where we handed over the key to security. Our duty was done and now it was time to head back to the house where we would pack up our belongings and load them into the SUV. We had to shut down the house by reducing the heat on the forced air heater, lower the heat on the water heater and unplug the circulation pump for the water heater. We shut down the computer, closed the windows and turned off the lights.
We still had a few repair tasks to perform at the Solstice condos. There were some door handle issues that had not been completed on the previous trip and I wanted to get it done prior to the winter rush of guests renting the units. We headed over there to take care of the issues that we would find. We wanted to start heading back to Los Angeles, so we were under the gun to fix as much as we could in the shortest amount of time possible. We wanted to be on the road no later than 3PM which would get us back by 9PM since it was a 6 hour drive back to Los Angeles. We quickly made our way through the different rooms checking out the door handles to see if they were loose. Almost every door handle needed some attention. The door handles were made by Colombo, an Italian manufacturer of door hardware. The complex was built by a Canadian company who used all this hardware throughout the entire complex. The hardware was metric based and did not match anything available in the United States. The door preparation was completely different than anything available here, so it was not an easy nor inexpensive task to change out the hardware to US compliant door hardware. The design of these door handles made it very susceptible to damage from rough handling by guests staying in the units making this a constant maintenance nightmare. So this is just another round of repairs like ones that we have done before in previous times.
We were now done at the condos and it was time to hit the road. We dropped the balance of the materials at the house and headed for the town exit. Driving down Main Street, we started our 6 hour trek slightly ahead of time. We headed down towards the Mammoth Airport passing by and continuing towards Crowley Lake. Passing the lake, we finally reached Sherwin Summit and headed down hill for another 10 miles to the bottom of the grade where we traversed across the valley floor for another 10 miles when we made it to Bishop. We stopped at the Schat Roadhouse to have a late lunch / early dinner. They have some of the best burgers you will ever eat so I decided to order one while Chris (who had one of their burgers on a previous trip) ordered another entrée. We wolfed down the food so that we could get back on the road. The good news is that we would be late enough to miss the bulk of Los Angeles traffic, but the bad news was that it was going to be a late night.
We headed south through town and proceeded to drive through town after town for 4 hours until we reached Mojave. We stopped at a local gas station for a pit stop and to get a caffeinated soda to starve off the drowsiness for the balance of the trip. We got back onto the road while continuing south and accelerating to full highway speed. The last 2 hours of the trip were relatively uneventful as we drove through the high desert, through the mountains and depositing ourselves into the San Fernando Valley. Heading down Interstate 5 through Sun Valley, Burbank, Glendale, Elysian Park and down the Santa Ana Freeway to the Long Beach Freeway until we arrived at the office. We pulled into the parking lot and parked so that Chris could grab his stuff, put it in his car and we both headed out to go home. It was about 9:30PM when we got home.
We were both glad to be home and relax before going to bed. Another job well done. . . . . . . .